Exclusive: Olivia Rodrigo & Madison Hu Dish on “Bizaardvark,” Being Role Models & Diversity on TV
Social media – you can’t escape it. Everywhere you look someone is posting a photo of their food, filming their every move or watching a video on YouTube. In fact, YouTubers and social media stars have become the new wave of celebrities. So what makes people gravitate towards them? One reason is that they film their everyday lives so they seem instantly more relatable than movie and TV stars.
So, how do you merge these worlds together? Just ask Disney Channel! Disney Channel’s latest live-action comedy, “Bizaardvark,” brings the world of social media to TV with best friends Paige and Frankie who love making funny and offbeat music comedy videos. The series follows the quirky duo on their journey to internet fame and comic dominance.
In addition to being the perfect show for this generation of social media savvy kids, “Bizaardvark” is breaking ground when it comes to diversity. The live-action comedy features not one, but two strong, multi-dimensional female leads who also happen to be ethnically diverse. The young actresses who play these hilarious (and relatable) characters – Olivia Rodrigo, who stars as Paige, and Madison Hu, who stars as Frankie. Olivia’s father is Filipino, her mother is Western European descent, mostly Irish and German. Madison is Chinese American. Being of Korean descent myself, it’s refreshing to see someone who looks like me on TV. Diversity in television has been making a breakthrough in shows like “black-ish,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Dr. Ken,” and “The Fosters,” but we need more of it.
Olivia and Madison are two leading ladies TV needs right now. And trust us, you should definitely keep an eye out for these two talented young ladies as they could very well be Disney Channel’s next big break out stars.
I had the chance to talk with Olivia and Madison about their ground-breaking show and the positive impact their roles will have on young kids right now. Both “fell into” acting as Olivia got into it through singing and Madison tagged along with a friend who wanted to act and ended up with an agent. Both have done small parts here and there, but “Bizaardvark” is their first major project and they couldn’t be happier to be on a show and on Disney Channel.
“I watched Disney a lot as a kid and dreamed of doing the wand ID and saying ‘I’m Olivia Rodrigo and you’re watching Disney channel,’” Olivia beams. “I really looked up to the actors I watched and when I found out [I was going to be on Disney Channel], I was over the moon!”
SO-M: You all have such great chemistry on screen. What was your first meeting like?
Olivia Rodrigo: We met when we did our first audition together. Even though we had never talked to each other before, we just clicked so nicely and played off each other so well. Even people in casting were like, ‘Did you guys know each other?’ We had a really special connection.
Madison Hu: I remember in the audition room when we were doing our scene and I was like ‘wow… this feels really good!’ On set we’re always asked if we knew each other or how long we’ve been friends. They never believe us.
SO-M: “Bizaardvark” is doing something that you really don’t see on TV. It’s bringing social media to the forefront, which is pretty awesome. What’s it like being on a show that is leading the way in that sense?
OR: I think it’s really fun and kind of eye-opening. I went on social media before but I didn’t realize the time and effort it takes and how much fun it can be to do everything. We have a social media presence with our co-star Jake Paul. He taught us how hard and rewarding it is to be on social media. It’s cool to be in this digital age. I get to be on Instagram and TV doing the same thing.
SO-M: Are you all similar to Paige and Frankie?
MH: In some ways, yes. What drew me to Frankie is how funny and unapologetic she is about her style and who she is. I have a very dry, weird sense of humor and I try to bring that to the character. And it’s cool that Frankie is so focused on following her dreams and doing what she thinks is right.
OR: Our characters are super realistic and I like how they have flaws but are very creative and hardworking. They’re not afraid to follow their dreams. They’re really cool girls and I’m happy I get to play a character like Paige for younger girls.
SO-M: Paige and Frankie are also quite quirky which is refreshing to see on TV.
OR: Paige and Frankie aren’t afraid to be who they are and do what they feel is meaningful to them. Sometimes they get criticism for it, but they move past it because that’s who they are. I feel that it’s really cool we get to show those qualities to younger kids and show them that being yourself is ok.
MH: I think that kids should know that being themselves is the best kind of version they can be. If you’re weird, embrace it. Be weird. I don’t think you should change who you are based on what other people think.
SO-M: You’re also playing some pretty strong young female characters which we need more of on TV. What does that feel like?
OR: I think it’s really important for young girls and boys to look up to role models that are multi-layered and that resemble what girls really are. Sometimes the media puts out girls that are obsessed with how they look or self-absorbed. I think it’s important for us to portray how girls really are and how smart and kind we are. It was great for me growing up and watching characters like that on Disney Channel. So it’s really cool to be one of those girls that maybe a little girl is watching today.
MH: I like that we’re not one dimensional or stereotypical. It’s cool that little girls can look up to us and see a realistic friendship and realistic characters.
SO-M: Speaking of having little girls relate to the characters, I know for me it was rare to see someone who looked like me on TV and if they were, they were mainly sidekicks and best friends. You two are now the leads of a show. How does that feel?
MH: I think it’s really cool that we’re having more diversity in television. I think it’s important for girls and boys growing up to see someone who looks like them on TV. I remember growing up, I never really saw a lot of Asian actors on TV. Because of that, I thought I wouldn’t get cast on TV or movies. I’m really glad I will be able to show girls and boys they can be on TV and they can be in movies, no matter their race or ethnicity.
OR: It’s really amazing because we’re on Disney Channel and we get to show young kids that you can be whoever you want to be. I feel very lucky to be in a position where I can be that for kids.
MH: I got a DM last week and this little girl told me she had been bullied because she was Asian and people were telling her she wouldn’t be able to make it in media or TV. She was brought down because she really wanted to be an actress. She told me when she saw me on TV she started ignoring those people because I defied what she was told. I think that’s really cool.
SO-M: You are both so young and grounded. That’s so great to see. I know 10 years is a long way off, but where do you hope to see yourselves in 10 years?
OR: I’d love to continue acting and get some really cool roles and also go to college.
MH: I also want to continue acting and play more multi-dimensional characters in movies and TV, and go to college [at some point]. Oh, they’re doing a live-action version of Mulan – I’d love to be a part of that!
SO-M: Last thing, any message for your fans?
OR: Always believe in yourself, work hard to make your dreams come true and do what you love.
MH: Follow your dreams no matter what may try to stop you or people who might want to stop you. Ignore them and do what you love.
You can catch “Bizaardvark” Sunday evenings (8:30 pm EDT) on Disney Channel.
Photos: Craig Sjodin, Ron Tom & Eric McCandless/Disney Channel